Bluntly, In the Heart of the Sea was such a disappointing movie that I can’t even come up with a metaphor about a man driven mad by a desire for revenge against a ghostly leviathan. And that statement is made all the sadder by director Ron Howard’s attempt to do just that with almost every character in the movie.
For the under-informed, In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the writing of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is also the story of the story that led to the writing of the novel Moby Dick. In short, the film occurs in two timelines that unto themselves cannot disguise the fact that neither plot line is satisfying.
Adding to this sense of disappointment is the fact that my friends and I saw the movie in 3-D IMAX, neither of which was needed to tell this narrative, which is surprising given the majestic concept of a whale attacking ships in the open ocean.
Even the actors couldn’t manage enough dimensions to be considered flat, let alone 3-D. Somehow, stalwarts like Brendan Gleeson, Ben Winshaw and Thor…I mean Chris Hemsworth…failed to bring life to this bilge water. Hell, even the great white sperm whale was unable to add excitement to this movie.
If you want the experience I think Ron Howard was targeting, watch Apollo 13 and every time Tom Hanks appears on screen, imagine him in a cape with a Viking helmet. You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
As one of my friends suggested, it was as though Howard was going through a checklist of clichés.
Man vs. inner demons √
Man vs. the elements √
Man vs. society/class system √
Man vs. nature/whale √
Man vs. himself/his past √
Unfortunately, Howard missed the most important one:
Man vs. coherent story with a point to make X
Having read the novel Moby Dick and watched two film versions—Gregory Peck is a God—this version actually did damage to the franchise. It somehow took an exciting tale and examination of the destructive demons that possess us all, and turned it into a melodramatic soulless mess.
The only real positive that I can offer this film was that for all the time spent watching nothing happen, I never reached the bum-squirming phase where I positively itched to flee the theatre.
This was a Hollywood gimme, and yet somewhow they managed to blow it.
Danny F. Santos (coming)
Less than a whale of a tale (Toronto Star)
It’s Man vs Leviathan (New York Times)